Given the oft-touted statistic that 75% of shopping decisions are made in-store, it is little surprise that point of purchase (POP) is becoming a key battleground for brands. Procter & Gamble claims it has six seconds to convince a consumer to buy its brands, and has responded to the challenge by creating a division dedicated to attracting spend at what it calls the 'first moment of truth'. However, as consumers become more savvy about traditional POP formats, brands and suppliers alike are having to take a more sophisticated approach to the medium.
In-store communication is higher up the marketing agenda than it has been for some time. As retailers such as Tesco and Asda promote their stores as media channels in their own right, with options from posters and radio to in-store TV, they are exerting more control than ever. For users of traditional POP materials, this has been bad news; so-called 'clear-aisle' policies have precluded stalwart techniques such as dump bins, barkers and free-standing units.
'The approach is that all cardboard, regardless of quality, is rubbish,' says Paul Clarke, sales manager at POP manufacturer Line Packaging and Display. 'Supermarkets are pushing brands toward more costly permanent displays. Tesco and Asda have their own screens and autonomous media companies that are looking at suppliers' off-shelf budgets.'
With trade marketing budgets being squeezed, it is hard to innovate at the £10-a-dump bin end of the market. However, Clarke says that relatively simple techniques, such as motion and lighting, can invigorate promotional units, as Line has done for Nestle promotions Kit Cash and Choc Idol.
Fiona Gaiger, deputy managing director of promotions agency Dynamo, understands the attraction of the clear-aisle policy: the number of new products and stores' movement into non-food puts pressure on space. But that does not mean POP should be consigned to history. 'By cherry-picking the most responsive stores and properly incentivising staff, POP campaigns can work,' she says.
Gaiger believes that, more importantly, brand managers need to get closer to their own trade marketing teams. 'At the moment they have different objectives, and it is often the retailer that is most prepared to sit down and plan an integrated campaign.'
Indeed, retailers often welcome brand assistance, according to Simon Smith, creative director of 141 red. 'Supermarkets are heading toward a clear-aisle policy, but they are throwing out challenges to brands. We've worked on projects for dental hygiene, where the supermarkets were asking how they could reinvigorate the category. They are quite open to suggestions for category ownership.'
He adds that POP innovations have to have a direct relevance to the products they are promoting rather than relying on gimmickry. For example, Cibavision contact lenses was faced with the problem that in most opticians' stores, the product is invisible, because it cannot be tried on, as glasses can.
141 red developed a unit to be used in opticians which positioned contact lenses as fashion items; consumers pulled a spring-loaded shelf barker to reveal information about the product. 'It is very simple and has become a permanent display,' says Smith. 'That's the challenge - creating permanence in-store.'
This type of innovation means traditional POP is growing stronger. 'For years people have said paper- and cardboard-based communications will be replaced by digital signage, but it's bigger than ever,' says Nick Brand, creative director of in-store agency Brand Design.
Indeed, digital methods of in-store media are still in their infancy in terms of understanding how they work, adds Brand. 'There is a misunderstanding about the benefits of the various technologies. The assumption that technology will automatically generate more sales is misplaced.'
Upfront costs of digital marketing are also considerable, often for solutions that are not as flexible as traditional POP.
'A simpler solution can cost considerably less to implement, requires less investment to produce and can often deliver far better results,' states Brand.
Traditional POP suppliers are keen to show that they can innovate, too.
Start-up Sales Activation Solutions (SAS) has developed a floor-graphics product that is now available in Tesco and Sainsbury's. It has also brought out a trolley handle advertising system, Trolley Vision, which it claims is unique because it is angled to be the first thing shoppers see when they look in their trolley. Unilever is an early adopter, through its Flora and Vie Shots brands.
Effectiveness is always a question with POP, and to that end, SAS has developed compliance and ROI measures. 'An auditing system reads unique barcodes on floor graphics when they are installed and lifted, indicating where they have been and for how long,' says SAS chief executive Ian Taylor.
'The 3-D printing techniques really make them leap off the floor. L'Oreal and Del Monte have used them as directional aids.'
Ultimately, POP is about converting interest into business, and its role as 'silent salesman' is being given a nudge by technology. Electrical retailer Miller Brothers is trialling a stand-alone sales kiosk in its new flagship store in Hull. Its senior web specialist Chris Campbell says the unit is pioneering as it allows 'customer not present' transactions using touchscreens and chip and PIN technology. 'The customer can browse, pay for goods and receive a receipt,' he says. 'They select the delivery date and go away with a guarantee that it has been processed.'
Charles Kessler, deputy chairman of POP supplier Kesslers International, stresses that whether or not a business adopts a technical solution, it should always remember fundamentals. 'The principle of what attracts people in-store, such as eye-level and connecting information to the product, remain the same.'
For the Mothercare launch of a breast pump by Avent, Kesslers devised an interactive DVD support unit that provides information and product in the same place. Because the unit only begins to communicate when a customer touches the screen, there is a measure of consumer response to the campaign; it also saves staff from listening to the same sales pitch all day. Such an approach benefits brand and consumer, says Kessler. 'Staff simply turn off units if they annoy. You have to direct communication to where it has most effect.'
Method: POP specialist Barrows has installed 'smart station' units that feed back real-time rate-of-sale information to Coca-Cola. A strain gauge measures stock levels and can alert merchandisers to imminent outages.
Why: Coca-Cola wants to understand consumers' behaviour better. The system allows Coca-Cola to find out when people buy its products and locate hotspots that allow the brand to better cross-promote in-store.
Where: 50 Spar stores in South Africa and stores in Argentina; other markets to join in soon.
When: Trial is set to last eight months.
Method: Interactive kiosks, designed by Scream.co.uk, provide a sales tool for browsing customers. The branded terminals give access to www.evanscycles.com.
Why: Evans stocks 8000 unique products, and not all can be held in-store. The terminals can be used in conjunction with sales staff to compare products and prices with competitors, or customers can browse and order goods themselves.
Where: At least one terminal in each of the 19-strong specialist chain's outlets. Larger stores have more.
When: Roll-out started 18 months ago, and is ongoing.
Method: Digital photo-developing kiosks have been installed in stores, offering hard prints from memory cards or CDs. The self-service units feature touchscreen technology, allowing customers to choose their prints.
Why: Digital printing is a growing market, worth £12m in 2003. Boots has a 50% share of the market and launched its own service in 2003.
Where: 1300 terminals have been installed in 1100 Boots stores.
When: Kodak started installing the machines at a rate of 120 a week in May 2004.
CASE STUDY - FLASMA
The Plaza Shopping Centre in London's Oxford Street was the first in the UK to install in-floor TV screens this April, when it signed a deal with Flasma for two 40-inch screens.
Flasma founder Richard Lee has been developing the system for three years, initially trialling it in a Co-op store in Oxfordshire. The system features heavy-duty floor-mounted TVs that have been designed to withstand five tonnes in weight and resist spillages.
As well as providing directional signage, the units are a new communication channel, says Bryony Parkin, marketing consultant at Savills, The Plaza's managing agent. 'Space for promotional activity in shopping centres is at a premium, as the wall space is taken up with store fronts. Flasma provides an interesting, cost-effective marketing medium for the retailers in the centre.'
Brands including Uniqlo, Holmes Place and Medicentre have used Flasma, and Smooth FM (formerly Jazz FM) has signed a 12-month advertising deal.
Nationwide is also looking at Flasma's effect on consumer behaviour.
Lee says Flasma is adding motion-sensitive zonal speakers to the system which will direct a message at consumers who walk over the unit, but will not trouble others. Flasma can also be allied with floor graphics to create a bigger advertising footprint.
The company hopes to announce deals with three more shopping centres soon. 'Malls are a natural arena for Flasma as there are a lot of people brands want to communicate with, but not a lot of space,' says Lee.
POP METHODS - NEW vs OLD
- Potential to be linked to existing management information systems and feed back valuable data.
- Greater cut-through with media-literate consumers.
- Revenue potential from in-store media advertising opportunities.
- 'Cleaner' solution that does away with in-store clutter.
- More cost-effective than technological solutions that have big upfront costs.
- Great flexibility, as suppliers can turn around POP jobs quickly.
- Tried-and-trusted method of reaching consumers.